Our Sustainable Packaging Framework
Our Sustainable Packaging Framework
How We Develop Our Eco Friendly Shipping Solutions
EcoEnclose cannot achieve its mission without a robust, well-researched sustainability framework that drives our decisions and innovation pipeline - on what packaging solutions to offer, which partners to work with, and what new solutions to develop. Every day our customers and manufacturers reach out asking us to offer new packaging options. But unfortunately, we find that when we evaluate new materials and solutions according to our framework, many of them don’t meet our standards, and we decide not to move forward with them even if that means losing customers and market share.
We also know companies like yours are trying to make thoughtful decisions and may need support navigating the world of eco phrases -- recycled, recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, zero waste, plastic-free and more.
We developed and are sharing this framework to clarify - for ourselves, our partners, and the fantastic companies we get to work with - what we at EcoEnclose mean by “eco-friendly packaging,” why we’ve made the choices we have, and the future we are working towards.
We hope that after you read this, you’ll come away with (1) an understanding of how thoughtfully and carefully we’ve developed our product lines, (2) the types of solutions you’ll likely see from us in the future as we continue to innovate, (3) the tensions and tradeoffs we consider when it comes to sustainable packaging, and (4) ideas for how you can continue to make your shipping strategy as eco-friendly as possible - regardless of whether you are working with another packaging provider or us.
We Design for Maximum Circularity
We prioritize packaging made with as much recycled content as possible, emphasizing post-consumer waste. We are on a constant quest to get our products to 100% post-consumer waste over time.
By utilizing, demanding, and constantly increasing recycled content, we spur demand for what households and companies recycle. This "market pull" is an essential step in making the recycling process work, and we believe businesses and consumers who want to recycle have a responsibility to prioritize recycled content.
Using recycled content also reduces carbon emissions, effluents, pollution, and resource extraction.
Recycled content isn't suitable for all packaging, but it works beautifully for eCommerce. Where it can be used, it must be used. When recycled content isn't feasible, we seek virgin inputs made with agricultural waste or certified sustainable inputs. Read more about our Canopy Pack4Good policy here.
We prioritize easily recyclable materials, focusing on those that can be recycled back into themselves versus downcycled into a lower-value item. We look for ways to increase recycling rates on our product lines.
We recognize that reuse is best and are always looking for ways to increase the one-time and long-term reusability of our packaging.
After reuse, recycling is the best ecological option for a package. Recycling diverts from landfills, which emit harmful emissions and become eternal graveyards of otherwise valuable and usable raw materials. Recycling has come under recent criticism, but we believe the best path forward is to (1) invest more in recycling and reclaiming infrastructure and (2) buy more recycled so those investments can be economically viable.
We See "Naturally Biodegradable" Solutions
as the Only Defense Against Plastic Pollution
We do not design for compostability. We recognize that composting is another end-of-life option that diverts from landfills, but "compostable" does not necessarily solve plastic pollution. And, as an end-of-life alternative, it is only optimal for organics that can't be recycled, not for eCommerce packaging.
Our conversations with composters have made this clear: All packaging, especially bioplastic packaging, makes their work harder, harms their operations, and degrades their output. If an item is recyclable and compostable, recycling is always preferred. The raw materials are more quickly and efficiently converted into something usable. Recycling is more friendly to contaminants that packaging brings.
The majority of certified compostable synthetic material has not been shown to decompose in a natural environment or a landfill. Outside of compost, these materials behave as plastic does.
We know that "biodegradable" is a term often used loosely. We also recognize that it does not describe an item's end of life. Something can be biodegradable and not compostable, for example, a block of wood or a burlap sack. Likewise, something can be labeled as compostable and never biodegrade in any natural environment, for example, PLA .
We use the term "biodegradable" to describe items that will decompose in a reasonable amount of time as litter. We invest in constantly developing naturally biodegradable solutions that will not contribute to plastic pollution in our oceans and lands.
If you are a company seeking solutions that biodegrade in a natural environment, we encourage you to avoid all plastics - including compostable bioplastics - and stick with paper and other naturally biodegradable solutions.
We Consider the Entire Lifecycle,
with an Emphasis on GHG Emissions and Agricultural Pollution
We recognize that the world faces several distinct and interrelated environmental issues, ranging from water pollution to carbon emissions. The Nine Planetary Boundaries framework does a beautiful job illustrating these.
We recognize that all boundaries are real and critical challenges. Still, ultimately we believe that curbing carbon emissions to reverse climate change is the number one goal of the environmental movement.
As such, EcoEnclose avoids solutions that may address one set of ecological concerns such as ocean pollution or landfill, but would result in higher GHG emissions.
Reducing GHG emissions is one big reason we prioritize recycled packaging. It is also why we love and actively promote our 100% recycled poly mailers, as these are the most carbon-efficient way to ship. And it is why we've partnered with Cloverly to help offset the impact of shipping your EcoEnclose order to your door, and, over time, the impact of more than just shipping.
The functionality of plastic is hard to beat - it's weatherproof, lightweight, flexible, strong and durable, and incredibly space efficient. Recycled plastic is a great solution we are proud to offer, but we recognize that its roots are still in petro-plastic. Furthermore, we know that long term, fossil fuels must be replaced by renewable inputs.
But, we also know that "bio-based is not always better" than petroleum when it comes to raw materials. As we pursue bioplastic solutions, we seek innovations that:
- Can be readily recycled.
- Don't degrade and displace our soil, lands, and waterways.
- Don't require extensive fossil fuels for production.
Corn and similar commodities grown through intensive agriculture do not pass our test. We believe corn is a terrible alternative to fossil fuels, so we have avoided solutions that contain corn-based / PLA packaging.
We Know Primary Packaging is Just the Beginning:
True Sustainability Must Run Deep
There are a lot of small or hidden parts to a package that can go unnoticed. So our innovation efforts aren't just on primary packaging - they address the little things as well, making them more carbon efficient, recycle-friendly and regenerative over time.
We were the first to introduce the Algae Ink option, a water-based black ink whose pigment is made with algae cells rather than petrochemicals. We use water or soy-based alternatives when Algae Ink isn't an option.
Label and sticker release liners are something end consumers don't even see. But they have historically always been made with virgin, silicone-coated paper. We introduced the first-ever label line with a 100% recycled, uncoated, curbside recyclable liner. Our stickers and labels also feature adhesives that are "Recycle Compatible," meaning they allow for a more seamless separation of sticker facestock and the paper package substrate.
These are just a few ways we analyze and improve the "little things" by our broader framework.
We choose domestic partners whose eco values align with ours. Why?
- It is easier to visit, tour, and collaborate with domestic partners. Our supply chain is just that - true partners in our quest to improve the sustainability of our packaging constantly.
- Emissions standards continue to be higher and more auditable in the US than in other manufacturing-heavy industries.
- Domestic manufacturing means our recycled inputs primarily come from the US. Using domestic recycled content is essential to our framework.
- Why ship from halfway around the world when you can manufacture domestically and ship more efficiently?
Across all of our partners, including the small set that isn't North American, we look to work with those who can communicate their sustainable actions and, where relevant, can verify them with certifications. For example, our corrugate partner is certified by the Forest Sustainability Initiative. In addition, our recycled poly-based partner is an active member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
Our manufacturing partners are core to our EcoAlly community and the ecological progress we are trying to make - and they are selected and vetted accordingly.
Huge boxes for tiny products, surrounded by plastic air pillows - this move is for companies that prioritize cost reduction and operational efficiency above all else.
Our mantra is different. Sustainable packaging means minimizing material and sizing packages right, so you're not shipping a bunch of air.
- We take the time to produce a custom box for every shipment out our door, so your package is delivered without excessive void fill or air.
- All of our boxes are custom cut to your specific dimensions. And we give you free samples so you can ensure the size is perfect before placing your order.
- We offer many sizes in our mailers, so you can hopefully find the one that perfectly fits your products.
- We offer our products in bundles and cases. This way, you can more easily stock a variety of mailer sizes rather than fitting all of your shipments in a one-size-fits-all package.
We know that the EcoAllies we work with care intensely about their product and packaging decisions. It's not enough to toss out simple phrases or icons to describe the sustainability of our products to this community. So we give you all the information we can on our website and our Bill of Materials, including:
- Recycled content levels and the post-industrial versus post-consumer split
- Country of manufacture
- Printing ink specifications
- Adhesive specs
- Whether or not materials have been treated with chemicals in the manufacturing process
- End-of-life options
- Detailed research to back up our sustainability framework
This level of transparency (1) pushes us to improve our products constantly and (2) allows you to make decisions that align with your sustainability framework.
Our Framework In Action
Ultimately, a framework is only valuable if it helps a person or company make decisions, particularly those that are difficult and complex. Here are a few examples of how our Sustainability Framework has helped us make some hard choices.
Facestock Options and Adhesives of Our Stickers
Introducing the Zero Waste Liner was a no-brainer. A 100% recycled, curbside recyclable release liner (in a land of silicone coated, virgin, unrecyclable liners) is a clear sustainable step forward.
Then we were faced with the question of facestocks. We started by only offering 100% recycled, uncoated paper facestocks. Uncoated paper is recyclable with paper and naturally biodegradable. Then we learned that many of our customers were adhering the stickers to their poly mailers. When paper stickers stick to poly mailers, they are a minor contaminant for reclaimers (and if all of their inputs contained paper stickers or labels, the contamination would become problematic).
This led us to consider a BOPP facestock as well. Unfortunately, BOPP facestock is currently virgin material, which made this a difficult decision for us. Ultimately, however, we realized how important it was to offer an option whose end-of-life matches that of our poly mailers. Therefore, we now offer BOPP alongside our uncoated paper facestock option.
Then came the question of adhesives. Do we focus on cost, recycle compatibility, or certified compostable? When talking to our customers, many of whom were intrigued by a compostable-specific adhesive, this seemed like a hard decision. However, when looking at this question through the lens of our framework, it was a much easier decision - go with the adhesive that is as compatible with the recycling process as possible and has enough tack to adhere to 100% recycled boxes and mailers.
The good news for folks looking for compostability is that adhesives make up such a small percent of an item's overall weight that they rarely affect the overall item's ability to compost. But when faced with a tradeoff, the choice to prioritize recycle-compatibility was clear.
Water-Activated Tape vs Cello Tape
EcoEnclose carries water-activated and two types of pressure-sensitive tape, including one certified compostable with a cellulose facestock - our cello tape. When asked which one a company should use, we almost always recommend our water-activated tape first.
This recommendation surprises some people, especially since one of our water-activated tape options is fiber-reinforced and therefore is not biodegradable or compostable.
We prefer water-activated tape because it produces a significantly stronger bond than pressure-sensitive tapes. This feature means you can use less tape (reduction of overall materials), and there is less chance of a box being damaged or tampered with in transit.
Additionally, while you can almost always recycle boxes with their tapes, water-activated tape adhesive and facestock are more friendly to the paper repulping process than our cello tape. This is because the fiberglass in the tape is screened out when the boxes are repulped.
Carrying Recycled Paper and Recycled Plastic Options
There has been an exciting move among companies to reduce plastic use, and some have set goals to eliminate it. Yet, we are sometimes asked why we carry any recycled plastic packaging, given that our framework focuses on "readily recyclable" and recognizes the importance of "naturally biodegradable." We have found that no one material perfectly meets all elements of our sustainability framework.
Our paper options are recycled, curbside recyclable, and naturally biodegradable. But our recycled poly options all have a lower carbon footprint than their paper mailer counterparts. Additionally, we recognize that the demand for recycled paper is already very high. Therefore, our role in creating demand for recycled plastic is more important and impactful than recycled paper. We hope that by carrying recycled poly-based options and pushing our manufacturing partners to keep increasing the recycled content and post-consumer waste percentage, we can help create industry-wide momentum.
Paper Is Our Gold Standard for a "Compostable Mailer"
Our decision not to offer a PLA+BPAT compostable poly mailer is rooted deeply in our sustainability framework - our focus on recycled content and recyclability, domestic and well-audited supply chains, and our concerns about corn and designing for compostability.
We know that it would be effortless to start offering a compostable poly mailer and that if we added it to our line, it would be a big boon for business. But every day, we make decisions and run our business in ways that may knock to our bottom line but align with our principles and are the right thing to do for the planet.
When companies come to us asking for a compostable mailer, our response is: We strongly recommend a paper mailer as the only compostable option available right now that meets our sustainability framework. Our paper mailers are 100% recycled, naturally biodegradable (so if they end up as litter, they will decompose and cause minimal harm to nature), curbside recyclable, and could be composted (though composters much prefer you to recycle them).
Stocked Shipping Boxes
Many packaging providers offer a myriad of stock shipping boxes in set dimensions. If we did this, we know we could increase some of our margins, reduce our lead times and perhaps get more sales. But doing this would have two ramifications: (1) Our customers may be much more likely to choose boxes bigger than they need to be, causing them to ship more air and wasted space. (2) We would hold more box inventory, meaning we'd have to expand our warehousing space and the room dedicated to storing stock boxes.
Because the consequences of stocking boxes do not meet our framework, we have decided to continue only producing boxes on demand, based on our customers' sizes and specifications.